The number of uninsured drivers in Texas has dropped more than 38 percent from a year ago, state statistics show, and officials attribute the decline to a program focused on getting those drivers either insured or off the road and a clean-up of the database of the state’s licensed drivers.
Statistics compiled in June indicate 13 percent of motorists, or about 2.6 million Texans, are driving without minimum insurance coverage, which is a violation of state law. One year ago, the state reported that about 22 percent of all drivers, or 4.2 million people, had no insurance.
“If this number is on target, the rest of Texas drivers can breathe a big sigh of relief that they are now less likely to get into an accident with an uninsured driver. It would appear that the program is becoming a real success,” Sandra Helin of Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an insurance industry group, told The Dallas Morning News.
Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins said the drop in the number of uninsured drivers resulted both from fixing the state’s driver database to make it more accurate and improved compliance with the mandatory insurance law.
He said that while it couldn’t be determined exactly how much each factor contributed to the decline, the four-year-old TexasSure program is “moving in the direction we hope for over time.”
Hagins said that since the fall of 2009, the insurance department has sent out more than 2.2 million letters to drivers who were found to have a car registered without an insurance policy on file. He said the agency still is sending out 25,000 notices a week.
Drivers are asked to verify insurance and are warned that they are subject to fines and loss of license if they don’t comply with the law. The minimum policy must contain liability coverage to pay for injuries and damages caused by the driver.
Earlier this year, problems in the insured-uninsured database were discovered by HDI Solutions Inc., the private contractor paid by the state to compile the information for the insurance department and other state agencies.
A main source of erroneous information involved drivers who sold or traded their cars, with those vehicles being shown in the TexasSure database as registered to the original owners but without any insurance coverage. Hagins said that problem has been cleared up.
Insurance industry representatives say that even with the past inaccurate numbers, the TexasSure program deserves some of the credit for improved compliance.
TexasSure relies on a massive database containing the names of all insured drivers and their insurance companies, matched to their license plates and Vehicle Identification Numbers, or VINs.
When a driver is involved in an accident or stopped, law enforcement officers can enter the plate number or VIN into the TexasSure system to verify insurance coverage. In addition, county tax assessor-collectors can use it to confirm whether a driver has insurance before issuing or renewing a registration sticker.
Those who lack insurance are ticketed, subject to a fine of up $350 on the first offense and up to $1,000 and possible suspension of their license on the second offense. They also face a state surcharge of $250 a year for three years. Those with multiple offenses who take no action are subject to arrest.
Texas drivers now pay an estimated $1 billion a year to protect themselves from those who have no coverage.
Insurance industry representatives noted some credit for the drop also should go to cities with ordinances requiring the towing of uninsured vehicles stopped by police or involved in accidents and competition in the auto insurance market in Texas that has helped make coverage more affordable.
South Texas counties had the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the latest report, with nearly 22 percent of the vehicles uninsured in Cameron County.